Philippians 2:12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed (2PAAI) not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out (2PPMM) your salvation with fear and trembling (NASB: Lockman)
Greek: hoste agapetoi mou, kathos pantote hupekousate, (2PAAI) me os en te parousia| mou monon alla nun pollo mallon en te apousia mou, meta phobou kai tromou ten heauton soterian katergazesthe; (2PPMM)
Amplified: Therefore, my dear ones, as you have always obeyed [my suggestions], so now, not only [with the enthusiasm you would show] in my presence but much more because I am absent, work out (cultivate, carry out to the goal, and fully complete) your own salvation with reverence and awe and trembling (self-distrust, with serious caution, tenderness of conscience, watchfulness against temptation, timidly shrinking from whatever might offend God and discredit the name of Christ). (Amplified Bible - Lockman)
Barclay: So then, my beloved, just as at all times you obeyed not only as in my presence, but much more, as things now are, in my absence, carry to its perfect conclusion the work of your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God, who, that he may carry out his own good pleasure, brings to effect in you both the initial willing and the effective action. (Westminster Press)
New Jerusalem Bible: So, my dear friends, you have always been obedient; your obedience must not be limited to times when I am present. Now that I am absent it must be more in evidence, so work out your salvation in fear and trembling.
NLT: Dearest friends, you were always so careful to follow my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away you must be even more careful to put into action God’s saving work in your lives, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. (NLT - Tyndale House)
Phillips: So then, my dearest friends, as you have always followed my advice - and that not only when I was present to give it - so now that I am far away be keener than ever to work out the salvation that God has given you with a proper sense of awe and responsibility. (Phillips: Touchstone)
Wuest: Wherefore, my beloved ones, as you always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, carry to its ultimate conclusion [likeness to the Lord Jesus] your own salvation with a wholesome, serious caution and trembling (Eerdmans)
SO THEN MY BELOVED JUST AS YOU HAVE ALWAYS OBEYED NOT IN MY PRESENCE ONLY BUT NOW MUCH MORE IN MY ABSENCE: hoste agapetoi mou kathos pantote hupkousate (2PAAI) mê hôs en têi parousiâi monon alla nun pollo mallon en te apousia mou: (Phil 4:1-note; 1Cor 4:14; 1Pet 2:11-note) (obeyed Php 1:5-note, Php 1:27-note, Php 1:29-note)
Having dealt with the voluntary humiliation of our Lord Jesus Christ, Paul went on to apply this truth in a practical way in the remainder of this chapter.
The respected expositor J Ligon Duncan makes a strong statement with which I heartily concur that Php 2:12,13 "is one of the most important passages in all of the Bible about sanctification." (See his sermon on Philippians 2:12-13 Live Life in Light of the Exaltation of Christ)
Henry Alford - After this glorious example (of Christ's obedience to His Father in Php 3:5-11) he exhorts them to earnestness after Christian perfection (not an attainment but a goal at which we should aim) (Philippians 2:13 Commentary - The NT for English Readers)
Hansen rightly says that "True worship of Christ inspires our work; singing the praise of Christ motivates us to build the community in Christ. (Pillar New Testament Commentary The Letter to the Philippians).
In Philippians 2:12-13 Paul presents two opposite and yet completely harmonious sides of the Christian life, the first emphasizing man's responsibility based on the truths just presented and the second emphasizing God's sovereign enablement which allows man to fulfill his solemn responsibility. Although God's part follows in Philippians 2:13, clearly man's part in Philippians 2:12 would be impossible without God's empowerment!
Martyn Lloyd Jones explains the so then (therefore) - We also saw that the Apostle's object in writing the words was not to give a disquisition on theology, but rather to make a practical appeal. Yet, as is his custom, he cannot make a practical appeal without putting it in terms of doctrine. That is where the New Testament way of life differs from a merely ethical system. Any appeal to the world to live a Christian life before it has become Christian, is, as we have seen, a negation of Christian teaching. We have here a perfect illustration of the Apostle's method. But it is true also of all the New Testament writers; it is the characteristic way of making an appeal for conduct and Christian behaviour. We are not put under a law but an appeal is made to us. There is a great law of life in the New Testament, but it is what the New Testament calls 'the perfect law of liberty' (James 1:25). This does not mean that the Christian is living a lawless life, but that he has a higher kind of liberty. The New Testament always lays down its doctrine first, and then, having done so, says, 'If you believe that, cannot you see that this is inevitable?' It is an appeal to equity, to fair play. It does not confront us with a way of life, and say, 'Go and live it.' It first of all tells us of certain things that have been done for us, and then says, 'Now then ...'As you make the transition from doctrine to practice in the epistles, there is always a 'wherefore' or a 'therefore', and I am at pains to point out that the essential approach is to be found in such a connecting word. Without that, there is no appeal, but because of that, there is a very definite appeal to reason and to commonsense. (Philippians 2:12-13 Working Out Our Own Salvation)
So then (5620) (hoste) is used to draw a conclusion from a preceding statement, introducing "an inferential lesson (1Co 3:21, 4:5, 10:12; 1Th 4:18, etc.)" (Eadie). In short, so then is a term of conclusion which should always prompt you to pause to ponder "What, when, why, who, where, how" type questions which usually will force you to examine the previous context.
In the present case Paul draws our attention back to Philippians 2:5, 6, 7-note, Php 2:8-note to the Lord's example of humility, submission and obedience to guide us and His exaltation to encourage us. Paul had just described Christ's obedience to the will of His Father. Based on Christ's example of obedience and the Philippians' obedience when Paul was present, they were to allow the obedience of their Lord to motivate and enable their ongoing obedience (under grace not law) when Paul was not present.
D A Carson on so then (therefore) - In other words, Paul is now drawing logical connections from the hymn of praise he has just offered up to Christ. There are at least two logical links in the connections he draws. First, every knee shall bow (Phil 2:10): therefore we do well to live in the light of the fact that we shall all bow before Christ on the last day and give an account to Him. Second and more importantly, Christ Jesus, after terrible suffering, was finally vindicated. So shall we be. He obeyed and endured to the end and was finally vindicated. “Therefore . . . continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling . . .” (Phil 2:12).
J Ligon Duncan on so then (therefore in some translations) - "So here we see — and it’s not surprising, is it, because he’s just shown you Jesus’ obedience — and then he’s said therefore, and then he says to you what? “Continue to obey.” So he is calling believers to obey. There is no idea in the Apostle Paul’s teaching that obedience is not an essential part of the Christian life. There are many, many well-meaning Christians who don’t believe – or who actively teach – that obedience is not a part of the Christian life. And the Apostle Paul is telling us here, ‘No, no, no! Obedience is vital to the Christian life, so continue to obey." (Philippians 2:12-13 Live Life in Light of the Exaltation of Christ)
Johann Bengel adds that "When Christ is proposed to us as an Example (as in the preceding context), the inference (of "so then") is, that we should uphold ("work out") the salvation He has procured for us." (Philippians 2:12 Commentary - Critical English Testament)
Lightfoot captures the spirit of the apostle's thought of so then paraphrasing it "As you have the Example of Christ's humiliation (Ed: And I would add "His obedience") to guide you and His exaltation to encourage you, so continue.
Marvin Vincent on so then - The point of connection through hoste with the preceding passage is hupekoos (obedient) in Php 2:8. As Christ obtained exaltation and heavenly glory through perfect obedience to God, therefore do you, with like subjection to Him (Ed: And with continual yielding to and dependence on the supernatural enabling power of the Holy Spirit of Christ Who indwells all believers!), carry out your own salvation. The spirit of obedience is to be shown in their godly fear, in the avoidance of murmuring and skeptical criticism (Php 2:14-note), and in their holy lives and their bold proclamation of the gospel in the midst of ungodly men (Php 2:15-note). For a similar use of hoste, comp. Php 4:1 ; Ro 7:12 ; 1Co 14:39, 15:58-note. (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Philippians)
Wuest writes that the so then (wherefore) "goes back to Php 1:27-note where Paul’s presence and absence are referred to as in this verse. In Php 1:27 we have Paul’s exhortation to the Philippian saints to conduct themselves as citizens of heaven should. Then the apostle singles out one of the obligations of a citizen of heaven, that of living in harmony and unity with his fellow-saints. In Php 2:1-4, he gives four reasons which in themselves are enablements, why they should live in unity together, and further develops the theme of Christian unity....Now, in Php 2:12, 13, the apostle exhorts these saints to make the humility and self-abnegation (self surrender, self denial, self renunciation) exhibited by the Lord Jesus, a fact in their own lives. (Philippians Commentary - Verse by Verse)
Here is a summary of some of the previous statements that call for the saints at Philippi to work out their salvation...
(Literally) Nothing from selfishness (Php 2:3a-note) ("Do" added)
Christ has set the example (compare Jn 13:15 with Php 2:3, 4-note) for us to work out, to walk in His steps (1Pe 2:21-note) and show love for Him (Jn 14:15). Shall we hesitate to follow? I pray not and may we learn to trust in the enabling power of His Spirit. The essence of what Paul is saying is that in view of the fact that Christ exhibited a servant's heart (Mk 10:45, Mt 20:28, Jn 13:4, 5) and an obedient, selfless spirit, so should we.
As John Eadie says "Will it not endear itself to your imitation as you look upon it (Christ's example of perfect obedience)." (The Epistle to the Philippians)
Martyn Lloyd Jones emphasizes this close tie between the previous Christological doctrine (belief) and the believer's earnest duty (behavior) asking "is there anything that so thoroughly tests our whole profession of the Christian faith as our reaction to it when it calls upon us to live a certain kind of life? I put it like that for this good reason: do we not all know something in our experience about this unnatural and artificial dichotomy? We may like to hear the gospel with its grand good news and all that it has to offer, but we do not always feel quite so pleased when it goes on to call us to live in a particular way. There are people who say, 'But it is so narrow.' When it outlines a 'straight and narrow way', they say, 'Narrowness again!' Because of the 'wherefore', because of this indissoluble connection between doctrine and practice, because, too, of this inevitable logical sequence from doctrine to behaviour, our attitude towards the appeal tells us a great deal about our ultimate attitude to the doctrine. The New Testament says that these things are really inevitable, they are linked together, so if I object to doing them, it surely implies that there is at any rate something wrong with my view of the doctrine. There is, then, no better test of my whole position, than my reaction when I am confronted with this amazing call of the New Testament to deny myself and take up the cross and follow Christ, to mortify my 'flesh', 'the deeds of the body', and 'my members which are upon the earth' and all those other New Testament ways of putting it. (Philippians 2:12-13 Working Out Our Own Salvation)
MacArthur adds the important note that...
Alford comments on the phrase "just as" - As is by no means superfluous, but gives the sense not as if (it were a matter to be done) in my presence only, but now (as things are at present) much more (with more earnestness) in my absence (because spiritual help from me is withdrawn from you), carry out (bring to an accomplishment) your own (emphasis on your own, perhaps as directing attention to the example of Christ which has preceded -- as He obeyed and won His exaltation, so do you obey and carry our your own salvation) salvation (which is begun with justification by faith, but must be carried out, brought to an issue, by sanctification of the Spirit -- a life of holy obedience and advance to Christian perfection (Ed: Not sinlessness). (The New Testament for English Readers)
Beloved (27) (agapetos from agapao = to love and agape = love) refers to the saints at Philippi who Paul loved dearly with an agape quality of love which is that unconditional, sacrificial love which flows from the throne of grace, is part of the very essence of God and which is produced in the yielded saint's heart by the Holy Spirit. This is a quality of love which calls for one to sacrifice of self for the sake of the recipient of that love. Paul in using this word agapetos is indicating to the Philippians that he has a heavenly, divine love for them, even commending them for their past obedience. His soul is bound up in these precious saints, who were the among the first Gentile converts in Europe (read about the Macedonian Vision, God opening Lydia's heart and the converted jailer at Philippi beginning in Acts 16:9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15-note)
Agapetos - 61x in 60v in NAS - Mt 3:17; 12:18; 17:5; Mk 1:11; 9:7; 12:6; Lk 3:22; 20:13; Acts 15:25; Rom 1:7; 11:28; 12:19; 16:5, 8f, 12; 1 Cor 4:14, 17; 10:14; 15:58; 2 Cor 7:1; 12:19; Eph 5:1; 6:21; Php 2:12; 4:1; Col 1:7; 4:7, 9, 14; 1Th 2:8; 1Ti 6:2; 2Ti 1:2; Philemon 1:1, 16; Heb 6:9; Jas 1:16, 19; 2:5; 1Pet 2:11; 4:12; 2 Pet 1:17; 3:1, 8, 14f, 17; 1Jn 2:7; 3:2, 21; 4:1, 7, 11; 3Jn 1:1f, 5, 11; Jude 1:3, 17, 20
Beloved conveys a tenderness and affection which lend force to the injunctions which follow while providing a clear word of comfort and encouragement. This tender, affectionate greeting would serve to temper any note of harshness in his exhortation/ Paul uses beloved twice in Phil 4:1 writing...
While this verse is actually Paul's first use of beloved in Philippians it does recall his earlier declaration of love for them...
Hansen explains that "Christ’s obedience established the ultimate moral standard of obedience for followers of Christ. Paul does not set up this standard in an accusing way but in an affirming way. He embraces his readers by calling them my dear friends, literally, “my beloved.” This strong expression of love for his friends continues the theme of friendship in this letter." (Pillar New Testament Commentary The Letter to the Philippians).
How different the tone is here from books like Galatians, where Paul is dealing with the danger of legalism and works (Gal 2:4, 5:1, 2).
Just as you have always obeyed - The idea is "Recall the times when you were filled with the Spirit and walked in obedience, disciplining yourselves for godliness, etc." And so first Paul encourages then with a reminder of their past conduct...they had obeyed. He uses this encouragement to gently prod them onward to a lifestyle of further obedience. Memory is a good thing when it remembers good behavior!
Past commendation is used by Paul to motivate present and future conduct. How different from his question to the saints in Galatia...
You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? (Gal 5:7)
You = The command is to the entire church at Philippi (and all believers) since the word you is plural.
David Guzik is "spot on" commenting that "We should not miss the connection between the obedience Jesus showed (Php 2:8-note) and the obedience Paul expects of the Philippians (Php 2:12)." (Philippians 2 Commentary)
Obeyed (5219) (hupakouo [word study] from hupó = agency or means, under + akoúo = physical hearing, gives us English word "acoustics") literally means to "hear under" and has the basic meaning of listening to or of placing oneself under what is heard and therefore submitting and obeying what is heard. Hupakouo implies the idea of voluntary submission.
Another meaning of hupakouo in Acts 12:13 presents an informative picture, Luke recording...
Hupakouo - 21 times in the NT - Mt. 8:27; Mk 1:27; 4:41; Lk 8:25; 17:6; Acts 6:7; Acts 12:13 ; Ro 6:12-note (believers no longer have to obey the strong desires of the old fallen sin nature! Don't say you can't stop that sin believer. Be honest and say "I won't"! You have a power outside of and inside of you - the Spirit, the transforming grace of God - which enables supernatural victory over sin ~ progressive sanctification.), Ro 6:16-note, Ro 6:17-note (notice where obedience comes from - not the head, but the heart - in the New Covenant God gives us a new heart [Ezek 36:26, 27, 11:19, 20, Ro 2:28, 29-note, Ga 6:15, 2Co 5:17-note, Je 31:31, 32, 33, 34, 32:39, 40] that now has a desire to obey Him - no, not perfectly but as the general rule and direction of one's new life in Christ); Ro 10:16-note (Don't miss what Paul is explaining - only belief saves, but genuine belief obeys. If someone says they believe and continually disobey and have no evidence of a changed life and new power over sin, they could be deceived - Let us all apply the test given in Paul's solemn admonition 2Co 13:5-note); Ep 6:1-note, Ep 6:5-note; Php 2:12; Col 3:20-note, Col 3:22-note; 2Th 1:8 (Context 2Th 1:7 - Who will be punished? Note how this truth parallels Ro 10:16. Do not be deceived!); 2Th 3:14; He 5:9-note (What is the associated with eternal salvation? How important is this point in modern day evangelicalism where there are those who claim salvation but have no demonstrable change in their lifestyle?); He 11:8-note (Again with what is obedience connected by the writer? See Ro 1:5-note for discussion of the phrase "obedience of faith"); 1Pe 3:6-note
Hupakouo - 52 uses in the non-apocryphal Septuagint (LXX)- Ge 16:2; 22:18; 26:5; 27:13; 39:10; 41:40; Lev. 26:14, 18, 21, 27; Deut. 17:12; 20:12; 21:18, 20; 26:14, 17; 30:2; Jdg. 2:17; 1 Sam. 30:24; 2 Sam. 22:42; Est. 3:4; Job 5:1; 9:3, 14, 16; 13:22; 14:15; 19:16; 38:34; Ps. 18:44; Prov. 1:24; 2:2; 8:1; 15:23; 17:4; 22:21; 28:17; 29:12, 19; Cant. 3:1; 5:6; Isa. 11:14; 29:24; 50:2; 65:12; 66:4; Jer. 3:13, 25; 13:10; 16:12; Dan. 3:12; 7:27
The word "answer" is our word hupakouo and in context meant to hear and to answer as a result of hearing. In secular Greek hupakouo was used of the doorkeeper whose duty is was to listen for the signals of those who wish to enter and to admit them if they are entitled to do so. Is the word of God "knocking" on the door of your mind and heart in any area of your life? Are you "opening the door" and letting the truth in? Are you responding to the truth you've let in or have you sequestered it in a back room of your heart so it won't disturb you?
Hupakouo conveys the idea of subordinating one’s self to the person or thing heard and hence “to obey”. Paul had used the adjective form hupekoos (5255) in Philippians 2:8 (see note) describing Jesus Who "humbled Himself by becoming obedient (hupekoos) to the point of death, even death on a cross". Christ is their example of perfect obedience and the Philippian saints have a good record of obedience in his presence. They had "hearkened" or given respectful attention to and surrendered to the truth of God's word as shown by their subsequent behavior. Little wonder that Paul as the "spiritual father" of these "beloved" saints had such affection for them for as John writes
Paul stresses not how much the saints at Philippi knew but how well they obeyed. He knew that when God measures the character of a man or woman, He puts the tape not around their head but around their heart! Your conduct does matter! So Paul appeals to the example of Christ's perfect obedience and their past obedience to continue to exhibit consistent obedience. Paul knows that ongoing obedience is essential to sanctification, which cannot occur without it. Are you a hearer of the word on Sunday and a "forgetter" on Monday? Are you growing in Christ-likeness (sanctification) or are you just growing older (and more hardened) because you hear but don't obey? Beloved brethren, "do not be deceived , God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap." (Gal 6:7-note, Gal 6:8-note)
Click for a discussion of the phrase "obedience of faith" which emphasizes the important relationship between belief and obedience.
Pulpit Commentary note asks...
Hansen makes the point that...
Dwight Edwards makes a point that should convict every pastor or teacher of the Word...
Bruce Goettsche - Integrity in the faith is something that is revealed in the hidden times more than in the public times. Bill Hybels had a great title for one of his books, "Who You are When No One is Looking". It is the reminder that who we are when no one is looking is who we really are. We can all maintain a certain image when we are in church. But the real test of faith is when we are outside of the church. The goal of the Christian is to live consistently. Will Rogers perhaps summed it up well, "Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip." (Sermon on Philippians 2:12-13)
John Eadie comments that Paul's "absence did not make the obligation (to obey) less imperative, but it demanded more earnestness and vigilance from them in the discharge of the duty. His voice and person were a guide and stimulant, his addresses and conversations reproved their languor, and excited them to assiduous labour, so that His presence among them wrought like a charm. And now that he was not with them, and they were left to themselves, they were so much the more to double their diligence, and work out salvation." (The Epistle to the Philippians - online - scholarly but excellent)
Vine adds that "Their fulfillment of his exhortation ("work out your salvation") was not to be dependent on his being with them. On the contrary, there was a stronger reason for their carrying it out when he was absent, as they would realize the more their dependence on Christ. The power of faith that depends upon the power of the unseen but personally present Christ is sufficient for the accomplishment of His will. (Vine, W. Collected writings of W. E. Vine. Nashville: Thomas Nelson )
It is interesting to see association of obedience linked as in the present verse with "fear and trembling" in Paul's letter to the Corinthians where he wrote that the affection of Titus...
Now much more in my absence - This reminds one of Paul's instruction to slaves in Eph 6:6 not to obey "by way of eyeservice (in the context of Php 2:13, not only when Paul is present), as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart (in the present passage obeying the command to work out their salvation)".
ESV Study Bible - They cannot be content with past glories but need to demonstrate their faith day by day as they nurture their relationship with God.
Pulpit Commentary - They were to make their future, as they had made their past. They were not to make their obedience to the gospel dependent on his presence with them. An obedience as in his presence would have meant negligence in his absence. Nay, they were to make his absence a stimulus to greater exertion. When they had not his help they were to feel the greater need of rousing themselves to action. (Ed: A a greater need on God their ultimate source of spiritual energizing.)
Paul Apple writes that "the degree of obedience of the child is not determined by what the child does when the parent is present, but by what he does when the parent is absent. (Paul Apple - Philippians)
John MacArthur comments that Paul's "point is that there is never a time when a true believer is not responsible to obey the Lord. Believers must never be primarily dependent on their pastor, teacher, Christian fellowship, or anyone else for their spiritual strength and growth. Their supreme example is the Lord Jesus Christ, and their true power comes from the Holy Spirit. Believers, gratefully, are never without Christ’s example and never without the Spirit’s power." (MacArthur, J. Philippians. Chicago: Moody Press)
Beet adds that "the absence of the teacher’s help (Paul) making their own care more needful. (Joseph A Beet - Philippians 2:12 Commentary)
Dwight Pentecost comments that the example of Christ in the previous verse should be sufficient motivation for them to obey explaining that "In Paul's mind, if his presence would put pressure upon them, the example of the loving suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ ought to put even greater pressure on them. It was Paul's greatest desire to please a person. That was the motive in his personal life, and it was not necessary for that Person to be present.
Harry A. Ironside has an interesting introductory note on this next section applying the truth more to the entire body of believers rather than to individual believers writing that...
WORK OUT YOUR (OWN) SALVATION: ten heauton soterian katergazesthe (2PPMM): (See Torrey's excellent topic "Salvation") (Phil 3:13-note, Php 3:14-note; Pr 10:16; 13:4; Mt 11:12,29; Lk 13:23,24; Jn 6:27, 28, 29; Ro 2:7-note; 1Co 9:24, 25, 26, 27; 15:58; Gal 6:7, 8, 9; 1Th 1:3-note; Heb 4:11-note; He 6:10-note, He 6:11-note; He 12:1-note; 2Pe 1:5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10-note; 2Pe 3:18-note)(Php 2:19-note; Ro 13:11-note, Ro 13:12-note, Ro 13:13-note Ro 13:14-note; 1Co 9:20, 21, 22, 23; 2Ti 2:10-note)
THE KEY TO PROGRESSIVE SANCTIFICATION:
Jonathan Edwards by most measures the greatest theologian in American history attests to the importance of a proper understanding of Philippians 2:12-13 writing that "From St. Paul a sentence hit me when I was about twenty-two that has shaped my theology ever since, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and to do his good pleasure" (Bolding added)
D A Carson - It is vitally important to grasp the connection between God’s sovereignty and our responsibility in Phil 2:12 and Phil 2:13. The text does not say, “Work to acquire your salvation, for God has done his bit and now it is all up to you.” Nor does it say, “You may already have your salvation, but now perseverance in it depends entirely on you.” Still less does it say, “Let go and let God. Just relax. The Spirit will carry you.” Rather, Paul tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, precisely because God is working in us both to will and to act according to his good purpose (Phil 2:12–13). Nor is God working merely to strengthen us in our willing and acting. Paul’s language is stronger than that. God Himself is working in us both to will and to act: he works in us at the level of our wills and at the level of our doing. But far from this being a disincentive to press on, Paul insists that this is an incentive. Assured as we are that God works in this way in His people, we should be all the more strongly resolved to will and to act in ways that please our Master. (Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians) (Ed Note: It is very surprising that Carson makes no mention at all regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in his exposition of this passage!)
W A Criswell emphasizes that Philippians 2:12-13 "must be read together for a proper understanding. “Work out your own salvation” means to “work out,” not “work for.” A “works salvation” is not being taught. The idea is to progress to the finish or completion in spiritual growth and maturity. This process is what the Bible calls “sanctification.” It should be noted that Phil 2:12 makes it clear we are to be active, not passive, in this process. However, though we are active, we are not alone. Phil 2:13 reminds us again that the entire salvation process is the work of a sovereign God and the result of His grace. (Criswell, W A. Believer's Study Bible: New King James Version. 1991. Thomas Nelson)
John Eadie - The compound verb katergazomai expresses the idea of carrying out, or making perfect...The verb describes not the spirit in which the work is done, but the aim and issue—“carry through” (Ibid)
Joseph Beet writes that katergazomai "denotes effective effort, and implies that deliverance day by day is a result of persistent work: cp. Ep 6:13-note. While using all means to strengthen our spiritual life, we are bringing about our present and final deliverance. So sailors have often toiled to save their ship from the rocks and themselves from a watery grave. (Joseph A Beet - Philippians 2:12 Commentary)
Thomas Watson - Life is a day for labor. The day is the time for working, Psalm 104:23. The sun rises and man goes forth to his work. Death is a sleeping time for the body. Life is a working time. A Christian has no time to lie fallow. Philippians 2:12, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." John 9:4, "Work while it is day." Still there is some work to do—either some sin to mortify or some grace to exercise. (Until My Change Comes)
Jerry Bridges emphasizes that "Our responsibility regarding our wills is to guard our minds and emotions, being aware of what influences our minds and stimulates our desires. As we do our part, we will see the Spirit of God do His part in making us more holy. (The Pursuit of Holiness)
Work out (2716) (katergazomai from katá = intensifies meaning of verb + ergazomai = labor, work or engage in an activity involving considerable expenditure of effort) means to work out fully and thoroughly, to accomplish or achieve an end (implying thoroughness), to finish or carry something to its conclusion. To work so as to bring something to fulfillment or successful completion and implies doing something with thoroughness. It means to do that from which something results. This verb always means to complete the effort and the work begun.
Working out their salvation is the way to keep obeying as they had been obeying.
As discussed below work out is in the present imperative which is a reminder that we can't even obey this without the Spirit's enabling power! This truth should help keep us humble! As Rod Mattoon says " The life of the Christian is not a series of up's and down's, but in's and out's. God (God's Spirit continually) works in us and we work out what He has done within us." In short, we are commanded to work out what He works in!
Katergazomai was used by secular Roman writers (Strabo - 60BC) to describe the working of a silver mine with the goal of extracting all of the precious ore. By analogy, we are commanded to "mine out" of our lives all the richness of salvation God has so graciously deposited in us. By sustained Spirit enabled effort and diligence we are to work out and perfect in daily conduct the precious "ore" God has placed within us when He blessed us with "every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" in Christ (Eph 1:3) and "granted us everything necessary for life and godliness through a true knowledge of" Jesus our Lord. (2Peter 1:3)
Katergazomai was also used to describe working in a field with the reaping of a big harvest! I love that picture -- Lord, let each of us "reap a bountiful harvest" in the glorious Gospel field known as sanctification! Amen
Finally, katergazomai was used to describe one working on a math problem and deriving the correct answer. So applied to Paul's command the idea is to "work out” as one does when referring to the working out of a problem in mathematics, carrying it to its ultimate goal or conclusion.
Wil Pounds renders Phil 2:12 as "Work out what God has worked in when you were born again. Bring the whole purpose of your salvation to completion. Don’t stop short of seeing the fulfillment of your very existence."
Paul uses the present imperative which is a command calling for the readers to make it their lifelong work to obey this command, bring their salvation to the goal (the goal of Christ likeness, "conformed to the image of His Son" Ro 8:29-note, cf Col 1:28-note "every man complete in Christ."). Thus this is not an optional exercise. In addition note Paul's use of the middle voice, pictures the subject as the one who initiates the action and then participates in the results/effects of that action. The point is that believers have a responsibility to put forth real effort in their Christian lives and it is not just "let go and let God." (aka "quietism" the opposite extreme being "pietism" - click for more discussion of these two extremes - Dr. John MacArthur) I rather prefer to say we are to "Let God and let's go!" Paul is commanding a continuous, sustained effort in this verse (balanced by a description of the continual, sufficient provision of divine desire and power in Php 2:13). Thus the clause could be rendered more fully as "You yourself keep on bringing your salvation fully to its intended goal."
The point is do not go half-way in your salvation. Do not take bits and pieces when there is a whole parcel of glorious Gospel land to be claimed by faith (obedience). Trust and obey there's no other way to be blessed in Jesus, then to trust and obey! God has given us new life in Christ, but His desire is for us to experience this life abundantly in His Son (Jn 10:10). He desires that we possess our possessions so to speak (cf Eph 1:3). Even as Joshua (and Israel) had been given the land of Canaan, they were still commanded to exert effort to possess their possessions. And so we read that God instructed them "Every place on which the sole of your foot treads (NOTE: They were to "tread" - Man's Responsibility), I have given it to you (God's Provision/Promise), just as I spoke to Moses." (Joshua 1:3) We must not be satisfied with just a little when we can have an abundance! Go on, keeping growing until your salvation is completed (2Pe 3:18-note), confident that He Who began that good work will complete it in the day of Christ Jesus (Php 1:6-note)
Notice that this verse implies that the believer has both freedom and responsibility. The responsibility of man in this verse as noted is balanced by the divine sovereignty in the next verse (Phil 2:13-note). Stated another way we are 100% responsible and 100% dependent (on the Spirit's enabling power - Phil 2:13).
Paul says believers are to continually be perfecting Christ likeness, that glorious supernatural life which commenced at our new birth. Dearly beloved, is this your ongoing experience - increasing Christ likeness? (You can use Gal 5:19-21 versus Gal 5:22-23 as a "checklist" to see if the former sins are are decreasing and the latter fruit is increasing. Don't place yourself under guilt or the law -- sanctification is about direction not perfection. But if you are not going in the "right direction," it begs the question of "Why not?" Beloved, we will have no excuse at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2Co 5:10-note), "seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence." (2Pe 1:3-note) Note that the "provision" is not nebulous or out of our reach but is rooted in true knowledge which in turn implies that you must daily be in the Word of Truth (cp Jn 17:17), not so much that you might know, but that you would grow! How's your time in the Word? While reading through the Bible in a year is great, it is far better to daily "ingest" a small portion of "filet mignon" (Mt 4:4, Job 23:12-note) and "chew" it well (See Meditation) so that you might "digest" it fully and it might be "assimilated" completely into your innermost being, resulting in real, tangible growth in Christ likeness, as you live out that truth in Spirit energized obedience (cp 1Pe 2:2-note, Micah 6:8, Jn 7:17, Ep 4:15-note, Col 1:10-note, 2Th 1:3, Ps 92:12-note).
The power that compels us
Handley Moule places the command to work out our salvation in proper perspective writing that "We have still in our ears the celestial music, infinitely sweet and full, of the great paragraph of the incarnation, the journey of our Lord of love from glory to glory by the way of the awful cross...the immediate sequel is—that we are to be holy. We are to act in the light and wonder of so vast an act of love, in the wealth and resource of ‘so great salvation.’ We are to set spiritually to work."
As C H Spurgeon wisely advised "Hurried reading is of little benefit. To sit down awhile and meditate is very profitable (cf Mary in Lk 10:39, 42)."
Martyn Lloyd Jones writes that working out what God has worked in "is the practical exhortation of the New Testament Gospel to us today. I must now perfect (Ed: bring to final form so as to leave nothing wanting = speaks of our continual direction toward this goal) this thing which has been given to me. The seed has been planted; I have been given it in embryo. My business is to allow and to encourage this gift to grow and develop, until it comes to its final perfection and full maturity. I have got the gift: I need not be worried lest God is not present and not with me. God is working in me and I must develop it all I can. (Philippians 2:12-13 Working Out Our Own Salvation)
The KJV Bible Commentary notes that "Our salvation is worked in by the Holy Spirit in answer to faith in God’s promises and it is worked out by the Holy Spirit by our obedience to God’s precepts. It is always a matter of trust and obey...No one can live the Christian life until he has Christ. It is not a matter of the imitation of Christ but the manifestation of Christ, the Holy Spirit reproducing the life of Christ in and through the believer (cf 2Cor 3:18). (Dobson, E G, Charles Feinberg, E Hindson, Woodrow Kroll, H L. Wilmington: KJV Bible Commentary: Nelson)
William Barclay says that katergazomai "always has the idea of bringing to completion. It is as if Paul says: “Don’t stop halfway; go on until the work of salvation is fully wrought out in you.” No Christian should be satisfied with anything less than the total benefits of the gospel." And so he translates this as "carry to its perfect conclusion". (Philippians 2 Commentary)
TDNT writes that katergazomai is. "found from the time of Sophocles, means a. “to bear down to the ground,” “to overcome,” maintaining the older local sense of kata; b. “to work at,” “make.” Refined by constant use, it gradually takes on the sense of the simple, so that the verb signifies working at, and finally accomplishing a task." (Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament)
Katergazomai describes not the spirit in which the work is done, but the aim and issue—"carry through" and so it represents the full and final bringing of an enterprise to a successful conclusion.
Paul's point is that by working out our salvation, believers bring the whole purpose of salvation to completion. In a sense then we are to daily "mine out" of our lives all the richness of the great a salvation which God has so graciously "deposited" within each believer.
Remember that in chapter 1 (Php 1:11-note) Paul said believers had been "filled with the fruit of righteousness" (perfect tense which describes a completed, permanent state) and here using katergazomai Paul is saying "work the field" and bear the fruit of righteousness in your daily Christian walk.
D R Jenkins offers an analogy to help explain how God works in (Php 2:13) and we work out "How does God work? (1) In the tree by air, light, heat, rain, and dew, and the tree works out in wood, leaves, and fragrant blossoms. (2) In man by means of His truth, Spirit, and grace, and we work them out in love, joy, etc. (Galatians 5:22, 23)." (Biblical Illustrator - online)
J C Ryle reminds us "If there is anything which a man ought to do thoroughly, authentically, truly, honestly, and with all of his heart, it is the business of his soul. If there is any work which he ought never to slight, and do in a careless fashion, it is the great work of "working out his own salvation" (Philippians 2:12). Believer in Christ, remember this! Whatever you do in religion, do it well. Be authentic. Be thorough. Be honest. Be true." (Authentic Religion)
A W Pink - As Matthew Henry (1662-1714) pointed out, "Many are more inquisitive respecting who shall be saved, and who not—than respecting what they shall do to be saved." "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12) is a word which many need to attend unto. (Ed: Pink is not saying we work for our salvation as we could earn it but we do carry out the daily business of working out our growth in Christ likeness.) (Curiosity Rebuked)
Thomas Watson writes that "Happiness is not attainable, but in the use of means. Now, the use of means implies practice. Salvation must not only be sought out by knowledge, but wrought out by practice, "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Philippians 2:12. There can be no crown without running, no recompense without diligence." (The Good Practitioner)
William Dyer notes why it is so important to work out our salvation "Until you attain to firm salvation--you will never be free from great temptation."
C H Spurgeon rightly notes that...
J R Miller writes that...
C H Spurgeon - Man’s work an evidence of his salvation: — William Wickham being appointed by King Edward to build a stately church, wrote in the windows, “This work made William Wickham.” When charged by the king for assuming the honour of that work to himself as the author, whereas he was only the overseer, he answered that he meant not that he made the work, but that the work made him, having before been very poor, and then in great credit. Lord, when we read in thy Word that we must work out our own salvation, thy meaning is not that our salvation should be the effect of our work, but our work the evidence of our salvation. (Biblical Illustrator)
If depraved men go to such great lengths to work out their indecent acts (same Gk verb translated "committing" in Ro 1:27-note), how much more should we who are children (Jn 1:12, Ro 8:14-note) of the Most High God burn in our desire to be pleasing unto Him and by the enabling grace He supplies and the empowering of His Spirit, work out our salvation...day by day...decision by decision!
Note that this verse is not teaching that an unsaved person can do good works to earn salvation. Why not? For one thing, those he addressed were already saved and secondly because the Bible is clear in its teaching that God “saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, Whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,” (see note Titus 3:5).
As James Hastings phrases it "We are not to work for life, but, as it were, from life, as being those who already have it and who are resolved, by Divine grace, to experience all that life implies....we in the sphere of Christ Jesus, in Whom potentially we have all things, (are) to work Christ out with fear and trembling into the actual being, thought and character of our souls.
Below are the 22 Uses of Katergazomai. The NAS translates katergazomai as: accomplished, 1; brings about, 2; carried, 1; committed, 1; committing, 1; does, 1; doing, 4; done, 1; effecting, 1; performed, 1; prepared, 1; produced, 2; produces, 2; producing, 2; work, 1.
Muller wrote that "The believer must finish, must carry to conclusion, must apply to its fullest consequences what is already given by God in principle...He must work out what God in His grace has worked in."
Wiersbe - As you yield to the Lord, He works in and you work out; in this way, you fulfill His plan for your life (Eph. 2:10-note). God cannot shine through you until He works in you, so let Him have His way. You are a light in a dark world, a runner holding forth the living Word to a dead world (Php 2:14-15-note). (Wiersbe, W. W. With the Word : The Chapter-by-Chapter Bible Handbook Nashville: Thomas Nelson)
James Boice reminds us Paul is not teaching “self-help” salvation (sanctification). This verse teaches "because you are already saved, because God has already entered your life in the person of the Holy Spirit, because you, therefore, have His power at work within you—because of these things you are now to strive to express this salvation in your conduct.....“The verse does not say, ‘work for your salvation’ or ‘work toward your salvation’ or ‘work at your salvation.’ It says ‘work out your salvation.’ And no one can work out his salvation out unless God has already worked it in.
Here is another illustration to help understand what Paul is calling believers to carry out ---
A H Strong - Our first and most important religious act is the signing of a declaration of dependence. We need to recognize our relation to God, to see that He is the source of all good, and that without Him we can do nothing. But we are not to be mystics, folding our hands and leaving everything to God. He has made us reasoning and voluntary beings, and when He works in us, He only puts us in more complete possession of our powers of intellect and will. Our declaration of dependence needs to be followed by a declaration of independence. We must see to it that we become co-workers with God and not mere puppets moved by the Divine fingers. The true Christian is more of a man than he ever was before, and while God works in him, he is also to work out his own salvation. (Philippians 2:12-13 Work Out Your Own Salvation - in depth!)
J Cameron Lees - A little seed, says a German fable, began suddenly to give signs of life, and it shot up through the hard crust of the earth, and it spread forth its roots, rejoicing in the pleasant sunshine, crying aloud in its joy, “Am I not a tree?” But a voice came floating by which said, “The wind shall rock thee, and great storms tear thy very roots, and the winter’s frost shall bite thee, and many winters and summers pass over thee as the years roll along, ere thou canst call thyself a tree.” It is a fable not without application. It is not enough that we feel called to a higher and a better life, and that we perhaps suddenly burst the bonds that hold us to the past, and rejoice in the inherent and everlasting love of God. There must be patient growth and development of character—working out our own salvation. (Philippians 2:12-13 Work Out Your Own Salvation - in depth!)
Dwight Pentecost explains that working out "has in it the idea to “translate.” Translate what you know into action. This is not working to attain something. Rather, because you have attained the riches of God in Christ, you are to let those riches work themselves out in your life. The life that pleases God is the life through which the salvation of God works itself out. It is a life that conforms to the salvation God gave us, and the salvation God gave us depended on the humiliation of Christ. The life that honors God is a life that is patterned after the humiliation of Christ, that seeks not its own good but the good of others....There is a great disparity between our knowledge and our practice. Most people do not face a problem of knowledge for they have been taught the Word of God. The problem is translating what is known into daily conduct. While we might score high on what we know, we may not score very high on how we translate what we know into action. Work out the salvation that God has given you in a life that is in perfect harmony with that salvation. (Pentecost, J. D. The Joy of Living: A study of Philippians. Kregel Publications) (Bolding added)
F. B. Meyer once said "I used to think that God’s gifts were on shelves one above the other, and that the taller we grew in Christian character the more easily we could reach them. I now find that God’s gifts are on shelves one beneath the other and that it is not a question of growing taller but of stooping lower."
Spurgeon - Does God work in you? Have you a work of the Holy Spirit in your soul? If so, you are saved. (Your Own Salvation)
J Lyth writes on the paradox of working out our salvation "Demands effort" but "It is not of works" and "Yet it must be worked out." What a divine paradox! It is mysterious - Not depending on self-effort but depending on Spirit energization!
Your (own) (1438) (ten heautoun) is a reflexive pronoun which means not to work out someone else's salvation but your own. It is placed first in the clause to emphasis the importance of each one taking personal responsibility. Growth in holiness is not something someone else can do for us. Each Christian should make it their own business to work out their own salvation. If we do not do it, it will not be done. But as Php 2:13NLT explains we can only do it successfully as God gives us the desire and power. Mystery of mysteries for on one hand Jesus declared "apart from Me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5), but Paul balances Jesus' words with the truth that we "can do (Our part) all things through Christ Who strengthens (God's part)" us (Php 4:13)
James Hastings notes that "Salvation must be personal for the all-important reason that sin is personal."
Spurgeon - Your own salvation. Charity must begin at home. You ought to spread the truth, but you must first understand it. Ploughing another man’s field, don’t neglect your own; indicating to another the mote in his eye, do not permit a beam to blind your own.
Deffinbaugh has a good word on the mystery of man's responsibility to work out his salvation and God's provision to enable him to work it out writing “All too often Christians try to distinguish between ‘our work’ and ‘God’s work,’ as though they can be neatly isolated and compartmentalized. In my opinion, this is like trying to distinguish between our Lord’s humanity and His deity. Since the incarnation, He is the God-man, and I don’t think we do well to try to distinguish between our Lord’s deity and His humanity.” (“Fleshing Out Your Faith” Phil 2:12–18).
Johann Bengel commenting on your own writes "In this respect, indeed, let each look to his own affairs; comp. Php 2:4. He says, your own: because I cannot be with you, be on that account more careful of yourselves."
In his introduction to his sermon entitled "Your Own Salvation" Spurgeon says "I ask you all, as reasonable men who would not injure or neglect yourselves, to lend me your most serious attention. Chase away the swarming vanities which buzz around you, and let each man think for himself upon his "own salvation." O may the Spirit of God set each one of you apart in a mental solitude, and constrain you each one, singly, to face the truth concerning his own state! Each man apart, each woman apart; the father apart, and the child apart: may you now come before the Lord in solemn thought, and may nothing occupy your attention but this: your own salvation.
Kenneth Wuest writes in regard to "your own salvation" that...
Salvation (soteria [word study] from sozo = save) describes the rescue or deliverance from danger, destruction and peril. For believers we have been delivered from slavery to sin and from the penalty (eternal death ~ separation from God) of sin. The ideas inherent in soteria include rescue, healing, wholeness, restoration, preservation and protection.
Salvation in this verse does not refer to the beginning of our salvation experience, the moment in the past in which we were justified (declared righteous) by grace through faith. Justification refers to a one time event and is often referred to as past tense salvation (See discussion of the Three Tenses of Salvation - I have been saved, I am being saved daily, I will be saved one glorious day in the future). In the present context Paul is referring to present tense salvation (we are "being saved" - eg, 1Cor 1:18) or progressive sanctification, which is the process God begins the day we are justified (See Puritan writer Thomas Watson on "Sanctification").
Soteria - 45x in NT - Lk. 1:69, 71, 77; 19:9; Jn 4:22; Ac 4:12; 7:25; 13:26, 47; 16:17; 27:34; Ro 1:16; 10:1, 10; 11:11; 13:11; 2Co 1:6; 6:2; 7:10; Ep 1:13; Php 1:19, 28; 2:12; 1Th 5:8,9; 2Th 2:13; 2Ti 2:10; 3:15; He 1:14; 2:3, 10; 5:9; 6:9; 9:28; 11:7; 1Pe 1:5, 9, 10; 2:2; 2Pe 3:15; Jude 1:3; Re 7:10; 12:10; 19:1
It is interesting to note that salvation (soteria) is used with a different meaning in in the first chapter where Paul writes that...
In sum, the meaning of salvation as determined by context (which is always vital when one is doing word studies, lest one arrive at the wrong "definition" for that specific verse) is not salvation of the soul (justification) but deliverance from the snares of the world, the flesh, and the devil which would hinder the believer from doing the will of God. Present tense salvation or sanctification is a life long event in which grow in Christ-likeness as we are delivered from evil.
The last words of the Buddha, as he was dying, are said to be...
As John Noss, the noted religion scholar explains,
Unfortunately for Buddha, his way of salvation missed the truth that it is God at work in us to will and work for His good pleasure. Buddha had it half right but salvation is not a game of horseshoes. And so Buddha was eternally wrong.
In summary, does this sound like the Christian life is going to be real work? Without a doubt! As Kistemaker says the Christian life is one of "continuous, sustained, strenuous effort" (New Testament Commentary: Baker Book House)
At times you will walk through a valley that casts a "shadow of death", but as the next verse teaches, you will never walk through it alone. Is the strenuous effort to work out our salvation worth the reward? Without a doubt! For one day we will each cross the "finish line" into glory where at least one reward will be to hear "Well done, my good and faithful servant." So beloved, make every effort to work out your salvation one day at a time... one decision at a time... one choice at a time... and do it all for the glory of the Lord.
Paul conveys a similar idea to Timothy warning him to...
John Walvoord explains that...
WITH FEAR AND TREMBLING: meta phobou kai tromou: (Ezra 10:3; Ps 2:11-note; Ps 119:120-note; Isa 66:2,5; Acts 9:6; 16:29; 1Co 2:3; 2Co 7:15; Eph 6:5-note; Heb 4:1-note; He 12:28,29-note) (Phobos and Tromos often occur together in LXX -- e.g., Ge 9:2; Ex 15:16; Is 19:16.)
The Union of
Why "fear and trembling"? What is the immediate context? Paul had just declared that one day in the future "at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (See note Philippians 2:10-11)
Observe also that in the Greek fear and trembling precede the verb work out which signifies that Paul was emphasizing the attitude with which they were to fulfill the command. Mattoon says "The idea behind this phrase is a passion to please the Lord. It involves humility and vigilance."
Spurgeon comments on why a believer should fear
Fear and trembling - The first words in the Greek sentence are phobos and tromos (fear and trembling) signify this attitude is being emphasized. It's as if Paul is saying first have a proper heart and mind attitude and then carry out the the action of working out your salvation thoroughly and to completion. How we think about God will always influence how we act before Him.
With fear and trembling: with anxious care as in a matter serious and difficult: a Pauline phrase; see 1Co 2:3; 2Co 7:15; Ep 6:5. It suggests the real peril to which Christians are exposed, and especially the great peril of selfishness. (Joseph A Beet - Philippians 2:12 Commentary)
While believers have been delivered from fear of the wrath of God (1Jn 4:18), we have not been delivered from the discipline of God. Thus sin in a believer can still bring discipline from God because of the sinful conduct, and in this sense the believer still fears (or should fear) God (cp similar fear in 1Pe 1:17-note).
Fear and trembling describe the anxiety of one who distrusts his ability completely to meet all requirements, but religiously does his utmost to fulfill his duty. Both fear and trembling are proper reactions to the awareness of one’s own spiritual weakness and the power of temptation. Together these words speak of a healthy fear of offending or displeasing our Father and a proper anxiety to do what is right in His eyes. It is certainly not a fear of eternal doom but a reverential awe that motivates a person to righteousness, living life "Coram Deo", before the face of God, fully aware that He is cognizant of not only our outward actions but even our inward motives (cp 2Chr 16:9).
FEAR IN WORKING OUT SALVATION...
James Hastings notes that...
John Walvoord cautions that "No foes of spiritual life are more obvious than self-complacency and pride. Spiritual growth comes when we realize our need for it. No doubt the small problems that existed in the Philippian church were fostered by spiritual pride and self-congratulation. The remedy was to recognize their need and the great danger of falling short of full realization of spiritual power and victory. Fear and trembling are proper reactions as we realize our own weakness and inadequacy. The remedy is to realize the divine sufficiency of God’s power. (Walvoord, J. F. Philippians: Triumph in Christ. Chicago, IL: Moody Press)
John MacArthur explains that
KJV Bible Commentary has a practical discussion of fear in this passage - This is not slavish fear, but wholesome, serious caution. It is the constant apprehension of the deceitfulness of the heart (Jer 17:9), taking heed lest we fall (1 Cor 10:12); or stop short of the final goal (2 Pet 1:1–10, 11). It is that desirable distrust of our own self-sufficiency and the consciousness that all depends on the grace of God. It is not fear of being lost, but fear of the failure of not walking in lowliness of mind, in true humility, and in unfailing obedience (cf Php 2:8). It is fear of all that would rob us of our spiritual vitality and spiritual victory and of shrinking from all carelessness in matters of faith and life.
Fear (5401) (phobos from the verb phébomai = to flee from or to be startled) refers first to flight, to alarm, to fright or to terror (of the shaking type) (cf. Mt 14:26; Lk 21:26; 1Co 2:3). This type of fear is connected with fear of the unknown, fear of the future, and fear of authorities. It speaks of the terror which seizes one when danger appears.
On the other hand phobos in some contexts refers to reverence, respect and honor, describing the attitude we should have toward a holy God (cf. Acts 2:43; 9:31; 2Co 5:11; 7:1). In some uses phobos includes the idea of astonishment and/or amazement (eg, Mt 28:8; Mk 4:41; Lk 1:65; 5:26; 7:16).
A third meaning of phobos pictures due respect for people and their position. Paul urged the Roman saints in regard to government authorities to...
A Biblical fear of God includes elements of (1) awe of His greatness and glory and elements of (2) dread of the results of violating His holy nature causing Him displeasure and incurring His hand of discipline (He 12:6-note, He 12:11-note). The OT points out that those who fear God show their awareness of Who He is by their moral choices (obedience - cp 1Sa 15:22, 23) as well as by their worship. In short reverential fear marked the Old Testament believer. Israel was commanded to reverence Jehovah. Moses was instructed to take off his sandals, when he was in the presence of God on Mount Horeb (Ex 3:5). The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (and thus it is a good thing to fear God!) (Ps 111:10-note).
Fear of God - 10 occurrences of this phrase in ESV - Ge 20:11; 2Sa 23:3; 2Chr 20:29; 26:5; Ne 5:15; Job 4:6; 15:4; Ps 36:1; Ro 3:18; 2Co 7:1.
If you are like many saints in the modern evangelical church, the chances are good that you have little understanding of the true meaning of Biblical fear. If that is you dear saint, let me encourage you to take a few hours and listen to the excellent five part Mp3 series by Jerry Bridges on the "Fear of God" . I can assure you that you will be amply rewarded for God Himself says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Pr 1:7) and wisdom (Pr 9:10, Job 28:28, Ps 110:10) or wise living (cp Ec 12:13, 14) in an increasingly unwise living world!
Jerry Bridges writes...
In sum, phobos includes both a negative emotion and a positive attitude. Christians are not to fear people or persecution or even Satan. They are, however, to show proper fear or reverence toward God and respect to other people.
Phobos - 47x NAS - Mt 14:26; 28:4, 8; Mk 4:41; Lk 1:12, 65; 2:9; 5:26; 7:16; 8:37; 21:26; Jn 7:13; 19:38; 20:19; Ac 2:43; 5:5, 11; 9:31; 19:17; Ro 3:18; 8:15; 13:3, 7; 1Co 2:3; 2Co 5:11; 7:1, 5, 11, 15; Ep 5:21; 6:5; Php 2:12; 1Ti 5:20; He 2:15; 1Pe 1:17; 2:18; 3:2, 14, 16; 1Jn 4:18; Jude 1:23; Re 11:11; 18:10, 15.
NAS = cause of fear, 1; fear, 37; fearful, 1; fears, 1; intimidation, 1; respect, 1; respectful, 1; reverence, 1; sense of awe, 1.
In classical Greek phobos meant panic or flight ('Panic-stricken flight' = Homer) It conveyed the idea of running away, of fleeing panic-stricken from battle. (2) More generally phobos means fear in the widest sense means 'awe' or 'reverence' for some exalted ruler and especially for some divinity or some god. It is the feeling which a man experiences in the presence of someone who is infinitely his superior.
In the Gospels phobos is used of the reaction when the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water (Mt 14.26), when they saw Him stilled the storm (Mk 4.41), of the people after the healing of the paralyzed man (Lk 5.26), after the raising of the widow's son at Nain (Lk 7.16), after the healing of the Gadarene demoniac (Lk 8.37), of the feeling of Zacharias when he saw the angel of the Lord beside the altar (Lk 1.12), of the spectators when Zacharias recovered his speech (Lk 1.65), of the shepherds when they heard the song of the angels (Lk 2.9), of the guards at the tomb when the angel rolled the stone away (Mt 28.4), of the women as they went home after seeing the empty tomb (Mt 28.8) and of the feelings of men in the midst of the devastating events of the last days (Lk 21.26), of multitudes of Jews not speaking openly of Jesus because of fear of the Jews (Jewish authorities) (= fear of man) (Jn 7:13), of Joseph of Arimathea a secret disciple of Jesus because of fear of the Jews (Jewish authorities) (Jn 19:38), of the disciples hiding after Jesus' resurrection because of the fear of the Jews (Jewish authorities) (Jn 20:19)
In Acts Luke records that...
Elsewhere in Acts Luke uses phobos to describe the reaction to the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:5, 11) and the reaction of the citizens of Ephesus to the attack on some Jewish exorcists by a demon possessed man. (Acts 19:17)
In second Corinthians Paul writes...
Paul exhorts believers and specifically those filled with the Spirit (see Eph 5:18-note) to ...
Peter exhorts slaves
Peter shows that a proper fear of God is a strong motivator for godly conduct, especially when coupled with a realization that our time on earth is short...
The NET Bible translation note comments that...
A T Robertson comments on fear and trembling...
William Barclay notes that "this is not the fear and trembling of the slave cringing before his master; nor fear and trembling at the prospect of punishment. It comes from two things. It comes, first, from a sense of our own creatureliness and our own powerlessness to deal with life triumphantly. That is to say, it is not the fear and trembling which drives us to hide from God, but rather the fear and trembling which drives us to seek God, in the certainty that without His help we cannot effectively face life. It comes, second, from a horror of grieving God. When we really love a person, we are not afraid of what he may do to us; we are afraid of what we may do to him. (Philippians 2 Commentary)
Rod Mattoon explains why we need to continually have an attitude of fear and trembling as we work out our salvation - We have 3 untiring adversaries and they are focused on trying to make us sin - "1.The Weakness of the flesh. 2. The Ways of this world. 3. The Wiles of the Devil. We need to fear the flesh since it is weak. The world criticizes our failures and Satan desires that we yield to temptation."
Fear of God therefore is a healthy attitude as we on one side have an awe of God's greatness and glory and on the other side have a deep and reverential sense of accountability to God or Christ and also a dread of the results of violating His holy nature. Such fear involves self-distrust, a sensitive conscience, and being on guard against temptation. Believers should have a serious dread of sin and yearning for what is right before God. Aware of their weakness and the power of temptation, they should fear falling into sin and thereby grieving the Lord. This solemn, reverential fear springs from deep adoration and love. It acknowledges that every sin is an offense against holy God and produces a sincere desire not to offend and grieve Him, but to obey, honor, please, and glorify Him in all things.
Quoting Ps 36:1 Paul summed up rebellious mankind's attitude toward God's revelation of His holy character as
Unfortunately believers are not immune to a gradual drift away from reverential fear of the Lord. There seems to be a trend in modern day evangelicalism (as manifest in many of the choruses and even the new Bible translations) away from a sense of God's holiness, a trend I personally believe derives in part from a general lack of familiarity with the character of God as taught especially in the Old Testament. For example, have you heard any sermon series recently on Leviticus which emphasizes the holiness of God and those who are to be His holy ambassadors? In short, there is a definite drift from a proper fear of God. In one of my classes, a saint who is quite knowledgeable in the Scriptures ask why were we studying the "fear of God" because it was an Old Testament concept not found in the New Testament since we are under grace? Yes we are under grace (but so were the Old Testament saints, eg Noah found grace with God, see Genesis 6:8) and clearly Philippians 2:12 teaches us about the importance of the fear of the Lord.
A. Raleigh - Salvation to be worked out with fear and trembling: — The face of the helmsman in coming down the rapids of the St. Lawrence in the great vessel is a sight to see. He takes in, as it were, all the conditions of the case, in one inevitable glance — the bank; the bend; the shallowing or deepening bed; the amount of way on the vessel; the hurry of the waters; the calm spread of the deep river lying like a peaceful haven yonder in the distance! There he stands — fearful, yet firm — distrustful, yet confident — until the danger is past. With a similar feeling — not slavishly afraid — but intent, earnest, bending all the powers in concentrated effort towards the ultimate object — so “work out your salvation.” (Philippians 2 - Biblical Illustrator)
Vincent has an excellent note reminding us that phobos, fear, is “Not slavish terror, but wholesome, serious caution. This fear is self-distrust; it is tenderness of conscience; it is vigilance against temptation; it is the fear which inspiration opposes to high-mindedness in the admonition, ‘be not high-minded but fear.’ It is taking heed lest we fall; it is a constant apprehension of the deceitfulness of the heart, and of the insidiousness and power of inward corruption. It is the caution and circumspection which timidly shrinks from whatever would offend and dishonor God and the Saviour” And these the child of God will feel and exercise the more he rises above the enfeebling, disheartening, distressing influence of the fear which hath torment. Well might Solomon say of such fear -How blessed is the man who fears always, but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity. (Proverbs 28:14).
In summary, "fear" is the attitude with which Christians are to pursue sanctification.
As much as fear of people and events is to be disdained, so reverential fear of God is to be cultivated C. Neil Strait writing of this reverential fear "Not all fears are bad. Many of them are wholesome, indeed, very necessary for life. The fear of God, the fear of fire, the fear of electricity, are lifesaving fears that, if heeded, bring a new knowledge to life."
Puritan John Flavel said that "By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil; but by the fear of man they run themselves into evil."
Puritan William Gurnall wrote that God is the Conqueror of all fear explaining that "Our help is in the name of the Lord, but our fears are in the name of man."
F. B. Meyer wrote that "God incarnate is the end of fear, and the heart that realizes that He is in the midst, that takes heed to the assurance of His loving presence, will be quiet in the midst of alarm."
Many people have faced frightening experiences, and sometimes nations have passed through times of terror. One such nightmare of human history was the frequent bombing of London and other English cities by Germany during World War H. Many Christians testified that those nighttime attacks were times of great peace because the Lord was with them. In this vein,
During WWII in the midst of frightening nighttime air raids one London church posted the following sign "If your knees knock, kneel on them."
Spurgeon on fear and trembling - With fear to offend so good a God of which we read, Blessed is the man who feareth always. With trembling. Before the Lord we do not tremble with affright, but with holy awe, lest we should sin and grieve the Spirit. (Working Out What is Worked In)
Fear and trembling are proper reactions when we consider our own spiritual weakness and the power of our fallen flesh to tempt us (James 1:14). The Amplified Bible "amplifies" the meaning of fear and trembling with a very vivid description "self-distrust, with serious caution, tenderness of conscience, watchfulness against temptation, timidly shrinking from whatever might offend God and discredit the name of Christ."
I particularly like the idea of "self-distrust" because my flesh is so crafty and subtle that it can make me think I am in good spiritual condition which is clearly a form of pride which comes before my fall! I think we might all benefit from the prayer by King Asa (before he became prideful - 2Chr 16:7ff) - "Then (see context = 2Chr 14:9-10) Asa called to the LORD his God, and said, "LORD, there is no one besides Thee to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength (That's us beloved when we try to win the battles with the world, flesh and devil in our own strength!). So help ('azar) us, O LORD our God, for we trust in Thee, and in Thy name have come against this multitude. O LORD, Thou art our God; let not man prevail against Thee." (2Chr 14:11) We need to confess our lack of strength and our tendency of self-reliance. Notice that while God provides the power, they are still have a responsibility ("have come against this multitude"). I love how Alexander Maclaren put it "Profound self-distrust is wisdom" which of course sounds like foolishness to the world, but it is in weakness that we are made strong even as the saints of faith in Hebrews 11:34 (cp 2Cor 12:9).
The world of course scoffs at the premise that self-distrust could have any meritorious effect, crying out that a lack of confidence in oneself is to be avoided at all costs. The world says be confident, be bold. Just do it. While this attitude may have some merit in the material world, it has no merit in the spiritual world and is of no value in our walk of sanctification. Confidence in the Lord, yes, but not confidence in my flesh. In fact, distrust of my flesh! There is a huge difference.
Maclaren goes on to add that "The consciousness of weakness may unnerve a man; and that is why people in the world are always patting each other on the back and saying ‘Be of good cheer, and rely upon yourself.’ But the self-distrust that turns to God becomes the parent of a far more reliable self-reliance than that which trusts to men. My consciousness of need is my opening the door for God to come in. Just as you always find the lakes in the hollows, so you will always find the grace of God coming into men’s hearts to strengthen them and make them victorious, when there has been the preparation of the lowered estimate of one’s self. Hollow out your heart by self-distrust, and God will fill it with the flashing waters of His strength bestowed. The more I feel myself weak, the more I am meant not to fold my hands and say, ‘I never can do that thing; it is of no use my trying to attempt it, I may as well give it up’; but to say, ‘Lord there is none beside Thee that can set the balance right between the mighty and him that hath no strength.’ ‘Help me, O Lord my God!’ Just as those little hermit-crabs that you see upon the seashore, with soft bodies unprotected, make for the first empty shell they can find, and house in that and make it their fortress, our exposed natures, our unarmored characters, our sense of weakness, ought to drive us to Him (Ed: Continually!). As the unarmed population of a land invaded by the enemy pack their goods and hurry to the nearest fortified place, so when I say to myself I have no strength, let me say, ‘Thou art my Rock, my Strength, my Fortress, and my Deliverer. My God, in whom I trust, my Buckler, and the Horn of my Salvation, and my high Tower.’ Now, there is one more word about this matter, and that is, the way by which we summon God into the field. Asa prays, ‘Help us, O Lord our God! for we rest on Thee’; and the word that he employs for ‘rest’ is not a very frequent one. It carries with it a very striking picture. Let me illustrate it by a reference to another case where it is employed. It is used in that tragical story of the death of Saul, when the man that saw the last of him came to David and drew in a sentence the pathetic picture of the wearied, wounded, broken-hearted, discrowned, desperate monarch, leaning on his spear. You can understand how hard he leaned, with what a grip he held it, and how heavily his whole languid, powerless weight pressed upon it. And that is the word that is used here. ‘We lean on Thee’ as the wounded Saul leaned upon his spear. Is that a picture of your faith, my friend? Do you lean upon God like that, laying your hand upon Him till every vein on your hand stands out with the force and tension of the grasp? Or do you lean lightly, as a man that does not feel much the need of a support? Lean hard if you wish God to come quickly. ‘We rest on Thee; help us, O Lord!’ (Read Maclaren's Exposition of Asa's Prayer in 2Chronicles 14:11)
The last line in a Puritan prayer in the VALLEY OF VISION reads "Let me live a life of self-distrust, dependence on Thyself, mortification, crucifixion, prayer." That's the prayer of a mature saint! It is a good pattern to emulate!
Spurgeon well said "Beware of no man more than of yourself: we carry our worst enemies within us! Distrust yourself, dear friend, for you accurately gauge your own judgment when you do that. The well-instructed believer is very much afraid of himself; he dares not go into temptation, for he feels that a man who carries a bomb-shell within him ought to mind that he keeps away from sparks, and that he who has a powder-magazine in his heart ought not to play with fire. When I hear my Master say, “One of you shall betray me,” I may have a shrewd suspicion that he refers to Judas, but it will be wiser for me to say, “Lord, is it I?” rather than to ask, “Lord, is it Judas?”
In Isa 66:2 Jehovah says that trembling is a good attitude for saints to possess - “For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being,” declares the LORD. “But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.
A W Tozer on self-distrust - It is important that we understand how dangerous it is to trust our good habits and virtues. Only God can bring us to the point of understanding that our strength is indeed our weakness. Anything that we rely on or trust can be our undoing. We do not realize how weak we are until the Holy Spirit begins exposing these things to us.
James Smith includes self-distrust among several which reflect the blessed state of those who are "poor in spirit." (Mt 5:3, cf Php 3:3)
F B Meyer - The resolutions of the evening are not strong enough to carry us victoriously through the morning conflict. We must learn to watch and pray, to lie low in humility and self-distrust, and to be strong in the grace which awaits all tempted ones in God.
Richard Watson on with fear and trembling. - Beware of the treachery of the heart. The number who have fallen; the immense stake at issue; the frown of God.
G Campbell Morgan commenting on Pr 25:9 - There is no safer condition of soul, than that self-distrust, that knowledge of ignorance, which drives us persistently to seek for the wisdom which cometh from above.
Alexander Maclaren - If we keep ourselves in Christ's love, we may blend self-distrust and absolute security, and we shall have the security only if we cherish the distrust.
Alexander Maclaren commenting on miracle of loaves and fishes - Preparation of the disciples for this work. Looking at their own resources, they felt utterly inadequate to the work. Humility and self-distrust are necessary if God is to work with and in us. He works with bruised reeds, and out of them makes polished shafts, pillars in His house. In His hands our feeble resources are enough.
Alexander Maclaren commenting on Luke 22:61 - Be sure, dear friend, that the same long-suffering, patient love is looking down upon each of us, and that if we will, like Peter, let the look melt us into penitent self-distrust and heart-sorrow for our clinging sins, then Jesus will do for us as He did for that penitent denier on the Resurrection morning. He will take us away by ourselves and speak healing words of forgiveness and reconciliation so that we, like him, will dare in spite of our faithlessness to fall at His feet and say, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I, earlier faithless and treacherous, love You; and all the more because You have forgiven the denial and restored the denier."
Alexander Maclaren - Love, which destroys fear, heightens reverence, and deepens self-distrust....Love destroys fear, and perfects self-distrust. (Sermon on 1John 4:18)
James Owen - There is abundant reason for caution, self-distrust, modesty, and humility, since so many have fallen, so many Peters denied their Lord, so many Demases forsaken Him. “Be not high minded, but fear.”
The old Scottish preacher Wardlaw says "This fear (in Php 2:12) is self-distrust; it is tenderness of conscience; it is vigilance against temptation; it is the fear which inspiration opposes to high-mindedness in the admonition 'be not high-minded but fear.' It is taking heed lest we fall (1Cor 10:12); it is a constant apprehension of the deceitfulness of the heart (Jer 17:9), and of the insidiousness and power of inward corruption [in the unsanctified]. It is the caution and circumspection which timidly shrinks from whatever would offend and dishonor God and the Savior (Ps 19:13)."
G Campbell Morgan noted the paradox that God's "grace keeps the soul in the dust of self-distrust; but lifts it to the height of confidence and loyalty."
Arthur Ritchie wrote "The secret of perfect trust is perfect self-distrust. And there is nothing which helps more to a realization of one’s unworthiness than the contemplation of the just judgment of God as He reveals it in Holy Writ."
Lilley writes "To walk in humility, self-distrust, and holy fear is wisdom."
Herbert Lockyer commenting on the apostle Peter wrote "Under divine training Peter came to learn that the secret of victorious strength in service for Christ is self-distrust, "When I am weak, then am I strong." Through his pride, through his overweening self-confidence, Peter fell, but there is one verse in his first epistle, addressed especially to those who are self-reliant, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour." From Jesus, Peter learned the lesson of self-abnegation (denial). The Master died to self before He died for sin. "Reviled, he reviled not again." This was the example which Peter the braggart came to follow (1Peter 2:21-24). Along a hard road he came to experience that "God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble" (1Pet. 5:5)."
C. B. Brigstocke writes that "Self-confidence is the mark of the natural man. Self-distrust is the mark of the genuine disciple of Christ."
Joseph Parker says "We are safe in Humility, we are secured by self-distrust; for then we cry mightily with the tenderness of prayer, "Hold thou me up and I shall be safe!"
Joseph Parker also prayed "Teach us our ignorance. May we begin at the point of self-distrust, and gradually move onward by the guidance of the Holy Ghost to perfect faith in the Son of God. We would live the faith-life: we would live, and move, and have our being in the Spirit."
J J Goadby - The spirit in which this great work (of working out our salvation) is to be pursued. - "What will come of any work we undertake largely depends on the “spirit” in which we undertake it. We may enter upon it half-heartedly, or as something merely secondary. But our salvation is to be the principal thing to us; and working it out is to be thorough. Wise cautiousness. “Fear and trembling.” This is not nervous dread, nor timorous quaking, but a keen and ceaseless outlook considering foes and temptations; a self-distrust that sharpens vigilance; a recognition of danger and preparedness to meet it.
A Word of Caution - Self-distrust becomes perilous sentimentality in some forms of sectarian religious life. It is exaggeration of sentiment to assume that, in the matter of redemption, or in the ordering of the godly life, God must do everything and man can do nothing. So long as self-distrust holds itself ready to respond to what comes of its reliance on God, it is healthy. When self-distrust is fostered by introspection, by examination of variable feelings, or by attempting to match feeling with impossible human standards, it is unhealthy, and utterly weakening to the moral fibre. Self-distrust that makes a man miserable and idle is, by its influence, stamped as bad. Self-distrust that inspires trust, self-distrust that persists in keeping on doing active duty, is healthy and good, honouring to God, and every way hopeful for man. (Pulpit Commentary)
Gotquestions on fear and trembling - This text is often misused to instill fear into people, warning them that it means that they can lose salvation. What does it mean to work out our salvation with fear and trembling? Paul can hardly be encouraging believers to live in a continuous condition of nervousness and anxiety. That would contradict his many other exhortations to peace of mind, courage, and confidence in the God who authors our salvation. (What does it mean to work out salvation with fear and trembling Philippians 2:12)
Trembling (5156) (tromos from trémo = tremble, gives us our English word "tremor") quaking with fear or quivering often with the implication of fear and/or consternation (Mk 16:8). Tremor in the present context expresses profound reverence and respect (1Co 2:3, 2Co 7:15).
Paul's use of tromos in his description of slaves closely approximates the sense of the use here in Php 2:12 - "Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ." (Eph 6:5)
The English dictionary defines trembling as an involuntary shaking, quivering, or shivering as with fear, cold or weakness.
Tromos - 5x in 5v in NAS -Mk 16:8; 1Co 2:3; 2Co 7:15; Ep 6:5; Php 2:12. Always translated as "trembling".
Tromos - 20x in non-apocryphal Septuagint (LXX) -Ge 9:2; Ex 15:15f; Deut 2:25; 11:25; Job 4:14; 38:34; Ps 2:11; 48:6; 55:5; Isa 19:16; 33:14; 54:14; 64:1, 3; Jer 15:8; 49:24; Da 4:1, 19; Hab 3:16. Is is most often translated by the English words (in NAS) terror or dread.
Tromos and phobos are also found in the Septuagint (LXX) translation of Psalm 2 which calls for us to "Worship (LXX translates it with douleuo = serve, Hebrew is more literally "serve") Jehovah with reverence (phobos), and rejoice with trembling (tromos). (Psalm 2:11-note)
The Lord seeks such an attitude from those who would worship Him in spirit and in truth, the psalmist writing "Worship the LORD with reverence (phobos) and rejoice with trembling (tromos). (Psalm 2:11-note)
Henry Alford comments on fear and trembling means "lest you should fail of its accomplishment at the last. The Expression indicates a state of anxiety and self-distrust. And the stress of the exhortation is on these words -- considering the immense sacrifice which Christ made for you, and the lofty eminence to which God hath now raised Him, be ye more than ever earnest that you miss not your own share in such salvation. The thought before the Apostle's mind is much the same as that in Heb 2:3-note. (The NT for English Readers - Online).
Paul Apple - Our Attitude must be that of a Humble Servant -- striving to please his master "with fear and trembling" possibly an idiomatic expression of the times 1Co 2:3; 2Co 7:15; Ep 6:5 cf. hostess wanting to make sure everything is just right for a distinguished guest opposite of being high-minded and proud and arrogant and self-confident (Paul Apple - Philippians)
Rainy on fear and trembling - He uses it where he would express a state of mind in which willing reverence is joined with a certain sensitive anxiety to escape dangerous mistakes and to perform duty well. (Warning and Shining)
F F Bruce writes that "fear and trembling" refers to "an attitude of due reverence and awe in the presence of God, a sensitivity to His will, an awareness of responsibility in view of the account to be rendered before the tribunal of Christ (see bema seat of Christ).
Alexander Maclaren comments on fear and trembling - You may say, “Perfect love casts out fear.” (1Jn 4:18) So it does: the fear that hath torment. But there is another fear and trembling which is but another shape of confidence and calm hope. Scripture does tell us that the believing man’s salvation is certain since he believes. And your faith can be worth nothing unless it have trembling distrust of your own power, which is the companion of all thankful and faithful reception of God’s mercy. Let, then, all fear and trembling be yours as a man; let all confidence and calm trust be yours as a child of God. Turn your confidence and your fears alike into prayer.
John Piper writes that "If you know God—really know God—for Who He is in the greatness of His holiness and justice and wrath and grace, you will tremble in His presence. And this is not something you will grow out of. In fact, the immature must grow into it. (The Present Effects of Trembling at the Wrath of God) (Bolding added)
The very thought of one of the most monumental events in time and eternity should cause every individual, saved and unsaved, to carefully weigh their every thought, word and deed, and chose the way of obedience and sanctification for none of know when that day will come like a thief. And so with utmost resolve and dependence on God (verse 13), we should daily seek to as
Eadie comments that fear and trembling "describes that state of mind which ought ever to characterize believers—distrust of themselves—earnest solicitude in every duty—humble reliance on divine aid, with the abiding consciousness that after all they do come far short of meeting obligation...“Work out with fear and trembling, for God it is that worketh in you. Engage in the duty, for God prompts and enables you; engage in it with fear and trembling—emotions which the nature of the work and such a consciousness of the Divine presence and co-operation ought always to produce.” If the impulse sprang from themselves, and drew around it the ability to obey, there might be “strife and vainglory;” but surely if the motive and the strength came alike from God, then only in reliance on Him, and with special humility and self-subduing timidity, could they proceed, in reference to their own salvation, or in offering one another spiritual service." (Philippians 2 Commentary)
Martin Lloyd-Jones writes that "fear and trembling" are manifest by "a holy vigilance and circumspection. It means that as I work out my salvation, I should realize the tremendous seriousness of what I am doing." (The Life of Joy and Peace, Lloyd-Jones p. 178)....He does not mean that we must do it in fear of losing our salvation. You will find that in the New Testament these words never carry that implication. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians 'I was with you ... in fear, and in much trembling' (1Cor 2:3), he did not mean that he was afraid that he would lose his soul. Neither is it a kind of craven fear, one of self torment. It means humility and a holy reverence, or, if you like, a holy vigilance and circumspection. It means that as I work out my salvation, I should realize the tremendous seriousness of what I am doing. (Working Out Our Own Salvation)
A W Pink - It is "with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12) that God bids us to work out our own salvation. While we are left here below, we are in the Adversary's territory, for "the whole world lies in wickedness" (1Jn 5:19). Moreover, sin indwells us, and our corruptions are ever seeking to dominate us. God has faithfully warned us in His Word against our perils, and it is the part of wisdom to lay those warnings to heart. Only the presumptuous fool will disregard them, only the silly trifler will raise quibbles and make objections against them. If God has issued cautions, it is because we stand in real need of such. (Brethren Beware!)
Dwight Pentecost explains that the idea behind fear and trembling "is of a passion to please. We might render the phrase this way: You work out your own salvation with a deep passion and trembling desire to do the right." (Pentecost, J. D. The Joy of Living: A study of Philippians. Kregel Publications)
As alluded to above, Phil 2:12, 13 must not be taken out of context which is critical for accurate Interpretation. "Work out" does not mean "work for" one's salvation as most of the cults teach. Paul is not teaching "works salvation". The idea as discussed more fully in the next section is to progress to the finish or completion in spiritual growth and maturity. Peter would phrase it a bit differently but gives essentially the same exhortation writing "applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence..." (2Pe 1:5, 6, 7-note, 2Pe 1:8, 9-note, 2Pe 1:10, 11-note), concluding his epistle with the exhortation (command) to "grow (continually) in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2Pe 3:18-note) This process is called "sanctification." Verse 12 makes it clear we are to be active, not passive, in this process. But praise God although we are active, we are not alone for the next verse reminds us again that the entire salvation process is a work of grace by our sovereign God. "For it is God Who is at work in you" is the firm and ultimate foundation for our past, present and future salvation. Our salvation is "by grace...through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God not as a result of works" (Eph 2:8-note, Ep 2:9-note). Works can no more retain salvation for us than they can achieve it in the first place, but works are the visible evidence of salvation and so we will do good works (see discussion Good Deeds) if we are truly saved "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Eph 2:10-note).
The next verse assures us that God is now working in us, through His indwelling Holy Spirit, to enable us to do these good works. This is good news.
John MacArthur explains that "there are two equal and opposite errors into which Christians may fall concerning the doctrine of sanctification. On the one hand, quietists stress God’s role in sanctification, to the virtual exclusion of any human effort. Pietists, in contrast, emphasize self-effort at the expense of reliance on God’s power. In Philippians 2:12, 13, the apostle Paul avoids both of those unbiblical extremes, and presents the true balanced view of sanctification. (MacArthur, J. Philippians. Chicago: Moody Press)
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Oswald Chambers - Work out what God works in - Your will agrees with God, but in your flesh there is a disposition which renders you powerless to do what you know you ought to do. When the Lord is presented to the conscience, the first thing conscience does is to rouse the will, and the will always agrees with God. You say—‘But I do not know whether my will is in agreement with God.’ Look to Jesus and you will find that your will and your conscience are in agreement with Him every time. The thing in you which makes you say ‘I shan’t’ is something less profound than your will; it is perversity, or obstinacy, and they are never in agreement with God. The profound thing in man is his will, not sin. Will is the essential element in God’s creation of man: sin is a perverse disposition which entered into man. In a regenerated man the source of will is almighty, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” You have to work out with concentration and care what God works in; not work your own salvation, but work it out, while you base resolutely in unshaken faith on the complete and perfect Redemption of the Lord. As you do this, you do not bring an opposed will to God’s will, God’s will is your will, and your natural choices are along the line of God’s will, and the life is as natural as breathing. God is the source of your will, therefore you are able to work out His will. Obstinacy is an unintelligent ‘wadge’ that refuses to be enlightened; the only thing is for it to be blown up with dynamite, and the dynamite is obedience to the Holy Spirit. Do I believe that Almighty God is the Source of my will? God not only expects me to do His will, but He is in me to do it. (Chambers, Oswald: My Utmost For His Highest - Barbour Publishing)
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Display According to Circumstances by John Ker = "... work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). - The Pharisees were rebuked for making their religion public. Daniel would have sinned had he made his private. So different is duty when religion is popular or unpopular. Sometimes a man has no religion if he does not show it; sometimes very little if he obtrudes it. One thing we must always show the fruits in the life.
There are things in religion not for common talk, which a delicate mind will no more thrust in than it will its heart's deepest affections. David says, "Come near all ye that fear God: I will tell what He hath done for my soul." Those that "fear God" are invited, and they must "come near."
Our Saviour was thirty years in the world before He said much in it, as far as we know. Then He spoke "as one having authority." He bade some of the healed speak, others to be silent, as suited character and circumstance. He kept silence on occasions--when the Syro-Phoenician woman cried after Him, when His accusers testified against Him. There are many seasons for silence as well as for speech.
Hidden Work by Elisabeth Elliot - Phil 2:12-14 - Few of us accomplish without delay or interruption what we set out to accomplish. Plans are made, and they fail. We dream dreams, and they are not fulfilled. Even what seem to be soberly realistic schedules are interrupted by unforeseen demands. Often we are tempted to quit our efforts altogether, to take a careless attitude, or to give in to helplessness, despair, and frustration.
When the apostle Paul's itinerant ministry was brought to a standstill by his imprisonment in Rome, he had plenty of human reasons for giving up. He wrote to the Christians at Philippi, who themselves were suffering persecution, reminding them of the humble obedience of Christ. "You too, my friends, must be obedient, as always.... You must work out your own salvation in fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you, inspiring both the will and the deed, for his own chosen purpose. Do all you have to do without complaint or wrangling" (Phil 2:12-14 NEB).
Imprisonments, persecutions, late planes, an attack of the flu, an uninvited guest, or an unpleasant confrontation--never mind. Be obedient as always! Such a simple directive. So hard to carry out--unless we also remember that we are not by any means alone in our effort. God also is at work in us, always accomplishing what we could not accomplish if left to ourselves: his own chosen purpose.
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Theodore Epp - Balanced and Blessed
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Becoming Whole - When a friend fell off her bike and suffered a severe brain injury, doctors weren’t sure she would survive. For several days she remained suspended between life and death.
The first good news came when she opened her eyes. Then she responded to simple voice commands. But with every small improvement, anxiety remained. How far would she progress?
After one difficult day of therapy, her husband was discouraged. But the very next morning he shared these welcome words: “Sandy’s back!” Physically, emotionally, psychologically, and mentally, Sandy was becoming the “self” who we knew and loved.
Sandy’s fall reminds me of what theologians refer to as “the fall” of mankind (Gen. 3). And her struggle to recover parallels our struggle to overcome the brokenness of sin (Ro. 7:18). If only her body healed, recovery would be incomplete. The same would be true if her brain worked but her body didn’t. Wholeness means that all parts work together for one purpose.
God is the one healing Sandy, but she has to work hard in therapy to improve. The same is true of us spiritually. After God saves us through Christ, we must “work out” our salvation (Phil 2:12)—not to earn it but to bring our thoughts and actions into agreement with His purpose.— by Julie Ackerman Link
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J C Philpot...
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A Long Obedience - Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. —Every January, health club memberships dramatically increase and exercise rooms become crowded with what some people call "the New Year's resolution crowd." Fitness regulars know that by March many of the newcomers will be gone. "They don't see results as quickly as they think they will," says one club director. "People don't realize it takes a lot of work and perseverance to get in shape."
It's a phenomenon we experience in the spiritual realm as well. Author Eugene Peterson notes that in a culture that loves speed and efficiency, "it is not difficult . . . to get a person interested in the message of the gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain the interest." To follow Christ faithfully, Peterson says, requires "a long obedience in the same direction."
Paul urged the Philippians to adopt the same mindset as Christ, whose obedience to the Father was wholehearted and complete (Phil 2:8-note). He encouraged them to keep on obeying the Lord and to "work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12).
As new believers, we may have good intentions when we take our first steps of faith. Then, as we grow in Christ, God's power enables us to keep walking joyfully with Him along the long road of obedience. —David C. McCasland (Our Daily Bread, Copyright RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved)
The Lord God is faithful, and always will be,
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THE ONE THING
I. Getting through the pearly gates. (Unbiblical idea, but good for jokes)
A man comes to the gates of heaven and is met by St. Peter. "What do I have to do to get in?" Peter says, "It takes a thousand spiritual points to get into heaven. What have you done?" The man begins to recite his accomplishments: "I went to church every Sunday, attended every prayer meeting and fellowship dinner, read my Bible each morning and shared the gospel with everyone I met. What is more, I tithed ten percent of all I made, sang in the choir, cooked Thanksgiving turkeys for the Senior Citizen's dinner and EVEN HELPED WITH THE JUNIOR HIGH BAPTIST YOUTH..." For two hours he went on reciting an awesome list of all he had done for God. Peter looked at with love and said, "That's very impressive! It will add up to one spiritual point." The guy was flabbergasted! "You mean to tell me that everything I've done, the sweat I've poured, money I've given and time I've spent is only worth a SINGLE POINT?? "I've got one point and it takes ONE THOUSAND to get into heaven? LORD, HAVE MERCY!!" Peter replied, "Oh, that will be worth the other 999. You can come on in."
A. Works approach.
B. Grace approach.
II. God's part in changing me.
A. God works in us.
B. Both to will and to act.
C. According to his good purpose. Phil 2:13
III. My part in changing me.
A. Obedience cannot be separated from faith.
B. We work OUT salvation.
IV. Three areas to start working on.
A. Devotion to God.
B. Relationships with people.
C. Attitudes inside yourself.
V. It's no joke.
A. Don't be afraid of God.
B. Power to change comes from God's power and our choices.
C. What do you need to change?
Salvation is hard work - don't let anyone try to tell you otherwise. You can toil away in your garden and you can put in a double-shift at your factory but the task that requires more sweat than any of them is salvation.
In our passage today Paul is dealing with salvation and he says we have to work it out, shine it out and hold it out. First let's look at Phil 2:12:
"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."
This statement has caused a lot of confusion because people disagree over just what Paul is talking about. It boils down to this question: How are people saved? Is salvation a reward for all the good works we do or is it really a free gift from God? Most people seem to think salvation is a reward for our good deeds. Often they'll mention following the Ten Commandments and going to church. Those who believe salvation is a reward usually don't set a standard. They don't pin it down so that seven good deeds get you in heaven but only six send you to hell. This view is attractive because it appeals to our ego. Americans like to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and earn our own way. "Work out your own salvation" seems to support this view.
The other view of salvation is more humbling. It insists that people do not deserve salvation because of their sinfulness. The only way to receive salvation is as a free gift from God. Since Jesus died on the cross for our sins, God saves those who accept Christ as their Savior. This is the clear teaching of the Bible but "work out your own salvation" seems to contradict it. The apparent contradiction disappears when we look at the context of the passage. Phil 2:12 may say: "Work out your own salvation..." but verse 13 adds, "...For it is God who works in you."
If God is working in a person, then salvation has already taken place, at least as far as the initial experience is concerned. Therefore, verse 12 is not talking about initial salvation, the moment when our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled back with God. Instead, it's talking about our on-going experience of salvation, what the Bible calls "sanctification." In other words, if you have accepted God's free gift of salvation, you'd better be obedient to God and work out what he has started in your life. The Greek word for "work out" always has the idea of bringing something to completion. Paul is saying, "Don't stop halfway. Keep at it until God's work of salvation is finished in you."
It's interesting how this passage deals with both our part and God's part in salvation. Once you are a Christian it becomes a cooperative effort. God's part comes first. As Phil 2:13 says, "It is God who works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure."
When we first feel the desire to be saved God is the one who caused this. The Bible teaches that God reaches out to us before we ever really think about him. The on-going aspect of salvation also depends on God - he works in us to do, or accomplish, his good pleasure in our lives. Without God's help there can be no progress in becoming a better Christian. He has to work in our lives from beginning to end.
But, there is also a human side to salvation. I want to be careful not to minimize this. Some Christians stress God's work so much there's nothing left for us to do. We become puppets that God manipulates as he wants. This isn't the biblical view at all. God created us as responsible beings. We can make choices. When God offers us the gift of salvation we must choose to accept it. When we are confronted by sin in our lives we must choose to reject it. That is why this passage is so important for Christians. If you're not a Christian the emphasis on "work" may lead you into the false doctrine of salvation by works. But if you are a Christian it's aimed right at you.
Living out your salvation is hard work and too many Christians are trying to get by on welfare. We want all the benefits without any of the effort. Part of the problem is that we put all the emphasis on the "decision" for Christ. Everything is made to boil down to the one moment you first accept Christ. In some churches every sermon and every Sunday School lesson are made to focus on it and nothing else is mentioned.
Paul didn't see it this way. For him the decision of faith must go hand in hand with obedience. In Phil 2:12 he says: "...as you have always obeyed, work out your own salvation."
Churches are filled with disobedient Christians who smugly trust in their eternal security. We should be glad we're saved but we should also try to make it more evident in our lives. The goal is found in Phil 2:15: "That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke in the midst of a wicked and perverse nation, among whom you shine as lights in the world."
Blameless is the first word used. This kind of blamelessness means that we should deal with the things in our lives that stick out like sore thumbs. Paul focuses on grumblers and argumentative people in Phil 2:14. There is no way that a professional grumbler can shine. The grumbling and arguing have to go if the shining is to start.
Our world needs people who shine. Paul says we live in a nation (literally it should read-a generation) that is twisted and warped. However, the darker things are, the less difficult it is to shine. I had an experience on Friday that fit right in with this thought. I was downtown in Coshocton getting license plates for the van when I ran into a problem: it wouldn't start. Fortunately, there was a Sohio gas station a short walk away, so I asked for some assistance. They sent a young mechanic over and he ended up working on the distributor. He was a good mechanic but I could tell from some of the expressions he used that he wasn't exactly "sanctified." When he found out I was a preacher he told me about a friend of his. He said this guy was once the biggest drug dealer in the county. He could supply you with anything you wanted if you had the cash. But one night while he lay drunk in bed the drug dealer realized he was throwing his life away. He immediately stopped dealing in drugs in gave his life to Christ. More than this, he went to a Bible College and will soon be a preacher in Kentucky.
After telling me all this the young mechanic said, "It's hard to believe people can change like that. I guess it's what they call being re-born." The drug dealer had been part of the darker side of society and by changing directions he stood out like a light. His non-Christian friends could see the difference.
We have to work out our salvation. We have to shine it out and we also have to hold it out. Paul says we must "hold forth the word of life." The word of life is the good news about Jesus and how he can change lives. To hold it forth means we have to evangelize. Everyone believes in witnessing but few people actually do it. Evangelism is more than knocking on doors or passing out tracts at airports. On the simplest level it involves sharing with your friends how important Jesus Christ is to you.
The apostle Paul certainly thought his relationship to Christ was important. In Phil 2:17 he describes his life as an offering. Literally this was a drink offering which was poured on the altar before the sacrifice was made. So Paul is saying his life is being poured out for God's service. Is yours?